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Great Lakes-Seaway shipping on course for promising year

June 13, 2018


For Immediate Release

Despite a slow start to the 2018 Great Lakes-Seaway shipping season, industry executives are expecting economic growth to translate into a promising year following strong numbers for grain, coal, liquid bulk and general cargo in May.

“Brisk activity in May has helped to overcome a slow start to shipping after ice challenges in the Soo Locks and in Lake Superior,” said Bruce Burrows, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, the bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders. “The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system is an important trade corridor for the United States for iron ore and grain exports, road salt and construction materials among other cargoes.  Customer demand is strong and we are optimistic that Seaway cargo volumes could potentially reach 40 million metric tons by the end of the year.”

According to St. Lawrence Seaway statistics, overall cargo volumes via that segment of the transportation corridor between March 29 and May 31 totaled 7.9 million metric tons, a decrease of just under four percent compared to the same period in 2017.

Year-to-date iron ore shipments via the St. Lawrence Seaway are down 25 percent, primarily because exports from Minnesota to Asia lagged in April due to ice conditions.  These exports have resumed and are expected to continue in the coming months. 

Seaway cargoes that have performed well this spring include stone (up 162 percent), cement (up 14 percent) and low-sulphur coal (up 43 percent) which is used for some power generation but mainly as a raw input for steel production. Liquid bulk shipments, including refined petroleum products and asphalt, were also up 19 percent.

Ice breaking operations were essential to getting the shipping season underway. From mid-December through mid-May, the U.S. Coast Guard spent over 40 percent of their ice breaking hours in direct ice breaking assistance. There were an additional 3,500+ hours of preventative ice breaking to establish and maintain paths in Green Bay, the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Superior. While these efforts were of great help to the Port of Green Bay, the harsh ice conditions in Lake Superior contributed to the decrease in total cargo.

The Port of Green Bay was up 10 percent in May over the same time last year, in part to large increases in limestone, petroleum products and project cargo. “We were off to a slow start due to the April blizzard and ice on the bay, but we are very pleased with the increase in May,” says Dean Haen, Port of Green Bay Director. “The nice weather in May got us back on track and we have a good outlook for the rest of the shipping season.”

Nearly 2.5 million tons of cargo have passed through the Port of Toledo already this shipping season. Coal and grain are outpacing 2017 year to date results while other commodities are not far behind. “We have seen a lot of international grain movement early this year,” said Joe Cappel, VP of Business Development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. Distillers Dry Grains (DDGs) have begun to move out of the Port for the first time and shipments of bagged salt and bagged cement have been imported. Salt and cement are not new commodities for the Port but handling these products packaged in bags and super sacks is new. “It’s great to see that shippers are pursuing new ways to utilize the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System for moving non-traditional cargo.” 


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About the Chamber of Marine Commerce

The Chamber of Marine Commerce is a bi-national association that represents more than 130 marine industry stakeholders including major Canadian and American shippers, ports, terminals and marine service providers, as well as domestic and international ship owners. The Chamber advocates for safe, sustainable, harmonized and competitive policy and regulation that recognizes the marine transportation system's significant advantages in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, Coastal and Arctic regions.

Media Contact:

Julia Fields

Chamber of Marine Commerce

(613) 294-8515